New England Patriots: What Will They Do With Their 2011 NFL Draft Picks?
New England Patriots fans have turned their attention to the 2011 NFL Draft, as we're now two weeks removed from the team's disappointing loss to the New York Jets in the AFC Divisional playoff round. The Patriots are the only team with two first round picks, having the 17th pick sent to them from the Oakland Raiders as part of their trade for defensive tackle Richard Seymour.
New England also has the 28th pick, what would have been their only selection of the draft's opening round. But with two picks to play with, the question becomes, what will coach and architect Bill Belichick choose to do with his coveted first rounders?
Despite enjoying a stellar 14-2 regular season, the Patriots still have a number of needs to fill either on draft day or through free agency/trades. The draft has long been their prime means of restocking their roster, as Belichick has shown no hesitation in plugging in rookies in key situations and coaching them up to fit his expectations and schemes.
This piece from NESN lists defensive end, outside linebacker, tackle, guard, running back and wide receiver as New England's draft day needs.
The most glaring area of need, at least to me, is the New England offensive line. They have questions in terms of whether three longtime starters, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Stephen Neal, will return for 2011. The last game of their season fresh in minds, New England's offensive line looked a step behind the Jets' aggressive defense.
A shot of youth along the line charged with protecting franchise quarterback Tom Brady is to me the biggest need for New England on draft day. Players like Colorado's Nate Solder, Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod and even Boston College's Anthony Castonzo might all be possible targets for the Patriots if they're looking for an offensive lineman in round one.
If New England wants to go defensive, they could target versatile and explosive pass rushers like California's Cameron Jordan or Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, or even Iowa's Adam Clayborn. All have high talent levels when it comes to rushing the passer, and all would fit needs for New England.
There's also the potential for a skill player, such as Alabama running back Mark Ingram or perhaps Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith.
To me it's got to be offensive line first and foremost for Belichick on draft day. He could also decide that two picks isn't needed in round one, and choose to trade down in favor of adding another pick in a later round. This is a frequently deployed Patriots strategy, so I wouldn't be surprised if they don't ultimately end up making two first round selections.
Still, there's a lot to consider with the Patriots' upcoming approach to the NFL draft, thanks to their draft-centric model of roster construction.
For more on the upcoming draft, check out 2011 NFL Draft: The Definitive Top 50 Big Board.
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